This document is intended to be a living history of greenkeepers' associations in the United Kingdom. If you have any information or photographs that you would like to add, email firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject title History of Greenkeepers' Associations.
An article from June 1960 should have some of the older members trying to remember the cost of living back then. The vice chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board was visualising parties from America flying into Glasgow and then on to Inverness on a Friday afternoon, playing golf all week and catching return flights late on Monday. The cost for all flights, road travel, hotel, food, drinks on the aircraft and the golf would be 20 guineas per head. For those too young to know, a guinea was £1-1/-, otherwise £21, and this was to play courses like Royal Dornoch and Nairn!
An article by Henry Cotton in Golf Illustrated attempted to back up the greenkeepers’ associations’ moves to have clubs recognise the work done by greenkeepers as being skilful and central to the continued existence of golf clubs:
“I would like to see the [British Golf Greenkeepers' Association] successful in their efforts to have greenkeeping recognised as an important career and not just another outdoor job. Wages should be good, pensions thought of, protective clothing supplied and transport to get them around the course to do their jobs more efficiently. A modern greenkeeper is a bit of an engineer, an expert in grass, drainage and golf matters in general and is too precious to lose. If good wages were paid it could prove to be a fine life for many, not only as a healthy one but as a sound financial one. I think greenkeepers’ wages are too low and to golf club management I would say, ‘honestly, would you do the work for the money?’ There is more loyalty and pride in their job in the heads of most of the greenkeepers in this country than one finds in many occupations today.”
The press and one of the finest golfers in the United Kingdom were pushing for better wages and conditions for greenkeepers, but still the dinosaurs that ruled the world of golf had not wakened up yet, and it would take a few more years for them to do so.
At the AGM, membership of the British Bolf Greenkeepers' Association (BGGA) was 518. At a time when golf was growing, almost as many members were leaving the association as joining.
In November the sad news of the of the death of W H Smithers was announced. He was one of the founder greenkeepers who assisted F G Hawtree in the formation of the Golf Greenkeepers’ Association in 1912 and after Hawtree resigned as secretary in 1922, Smithers took over and served in the position until 1939.
A meeting was held in April in Scotland with the Association of Golf Club Secretaries (AGCS) to discuss the apprenticeship scheme. A letter was produced by them from St Andrews House, the Scottish Office, in which the AGCS was advised: “perhaps in the near future greenkeeping would become a trade”.
At that meeting it was asked how long it should take to become a head greenkeeper. The answer was four years’ apprenticeship and six years as a journeyman. I would hold that should be the minimum requirement, even today. It was also suggested that apprentices should get six golf lessons free to enable them to understand the game.
There were now 191 members.
D V D Moss, secretary of the BGGA since 1946, announced his retirement on health grounds. He would be succeeded by Mr C H Dix.
At the AGM in September a query on whether there had been any developments regarding an apprenticeship scheme was answered by F W Hawtree, who told the meeting he had written to the English Golf Union (EGU) on this subject and was also present at the meeting when the letter was discussed. However, he was of the opinion that the EGU was more concerned with the playing side of the game and the BGGA should look elsewhere for help to develop this scheme.
Earlier in 1961 the Scottish Golf Greenkeepers' Association (SGGA) had finally achieved a breakthrough; after 10 years of battering down the walls of officialdom erected by the Scottish Golf Union (SGU), the secretaries and the golf clubs themselves. An announcement was made that an apprenticeship scheme would be set in motion with a four-year contract, a set scale of wages and a course at the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI).
There would also be a scheme to improve working conditions for greenkeepers and it was announced that the Ministry of Labour would put greenkeeping on their official list in every Labour Exchange (Job Centre) in Scotland.
During 1961 approximately 100 new members had joined the BGGA with 30 resignations, so membership was climbing again.
At an SGGA executive meeting it was reported that some clubs were advertising for head greenkeepers with the words ‘no experience necessary’.
It was also noted that in the Ryder Cup held that year, although the Americans almost always repaired their pitchmarks, hardly any of the British team did. A letter was to be sent to The R&A deploring their etiquette.
A poll was taken of members regarding their wages and there were 195 members of the SGGA.
In the early part of 1962, after a lot toing and froing, the Northumberland and Durham Greenkeepers’ Association finally decided to re-join the BGGA, which was another fillip to the membership.
An interesting item from F W Hawtree suggested – lightheartedly, methinks – that a course he had visited on the French Riviera could be an ideal venue for the annual tournament when the Common Market leads the BGGA to become the European Golf Greenkeepers Association – obviously Fred’s vision for the future.
At the AGM it was announced that there were now 530 members, which makes us wonder as the 1960 AGM membership was 518 and the next year it said there were 100 new members and 30 resignations. Had there been another big drop in ’62?
1962 was remembered for the fact that the association was now 50 years old. When you consider there were two world wars in that time, on top of all the usual obstacles new organisations face and the fact it was all voluntary work, then many people had to be congratulated in keeping the association alive.
What would the next 50 years bring? Every greenkeeper in the land a member? Wages and conditions comparable to other recognised trades? Greenkeepers being recognised for their skills in many aspects of turf culture and being treated as an equal with the secretary and professional?
W Ritchie of Kirrimuir suggested there should be Northern section of the SGGA around the Inverness area. Mr Ritchie investigated.
Again this year, the SGGA wrote to the SGU regarding wages and conditions.
The year started with the sad news of the death of former president of the GGA from 1935 to 1938, Sir Robert Webber.
The first meeting of a Joint Council for Golf Greenkeeping Apprenticeships was held at Bingley on 8 April. A positive move at last. Many people have made great efforts to help greenkeepers further education and training, but it took a long time for authorities to recognise and become involved.
Over the years greenkeepers have been responsible for training themselves. City and Guilds qualifications for trades were first founded in 1878 and it took nearly 100 years before they recognised turfcraft as a trade or profession.
In Scotland the first mention we have is of a series of lectures held between 1920 and 1928. There were six lectures each year, attended by greenkeepers from all over Scotland. These lectures were put into booklet form and given to all members of the SGGA and at the end of the year an examination was held. This, by all accounts, was pretty stiff, but there was a pass rate of over 60%.
After the Second World War various SGGA committees made attempts to have an apprenticeship scheme set up, but it wasn’t until 1963 that the Joint Council for Golf Greenkeeper Apprenticeship was set up. The council consisted of representatives from the BGGA, SGGA, BGGA Wales, EGU, SGU, Wales Golf Union (WGU) and the STRI. The aim was to provide for the systematic recruitment and training of greenkeepers on golf courses.
The first registered apprentice in Scotland to gain qualifications was David Gall from Buchanan Castle, who eventually finished up as course manager at Cardross Golf Club.
An article in the May magazine was a reprint of one published in Golf Monthly, whereby the correspondent compared the clubs on full membership as more and more people took up the game. Professionals were selling equipment faster than they could buy it, tournament professionals had the chance to earn lots of money and golf was awash with cash – except for the men who made the whole thing possible – the greenkeepers. The writer goes on to talk about a crisis in the trade, although no on recognises it as a trade – and the possible ramifications for all those concerned unless changes were made to improve the lot of the greenkeeper.
Membership of the BGGA this year had reached 600.
Mr C George proposed that the SGGA should have a badge and tie and this was agreed on.
A meeting was held at Aberdeen to discuss forming a section in the Inverness area, but it would appear there was not a lot of backing for it.
Another sad intimation with the news of the death of Lord Brabazon who, as Lt Col Brabazon, was president of the association from 1938 to 1949. BGGA was especially indebted to him for his efforts in building up the benevolent fund from a nominal sum into a four-figure amount. He was a pioneer in the aviation and motor industries, a pioneer yachtsman and an enthusiastic golfer. As well as being president of the BGGA, he was also president of the EGU in 1938, captain of The R&A in 1952 and became president of the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) in 1954. In his part time he also did the Cresta Run – a toboggan track in Switzerland – when he was 70 years old.
There were 615 members of the BGGA now.
It was again proposed that the name of the SGGA be changed to the Golf Course Superintendents Association and surprisingly at the AGM in November the motion was carried. However, the decision to change the name of the association was rescinded, reverting back to SGGA.
An offer from The R&A for the SGGA to have a tent at The Open was gratefully accepted.
Membership of the BGGA grew to 680.
Membership fell by four to 675. Financially the association was doing very well, with the magazine gaining extra revenue from advertisers and helping the balance sheet. The benevolent fund was also in a healthy state and being used every year to assist some members in one way or another.
The F G Hawtree Memorial Fund set up after Hawtree’s death had helped three or four greenkeepers each year to further their education, which had always been one of Hawtree’s ideals.
Once again attempts were made to organise a meeting between the SGGA and both the SGU and the secretaries’ association regarding wages and conditions.
The 50th AGM of the BGGA was held at Walton Heath on Monday 7 August at 2.30pm. The 50th annual golf tournament was held alongside this, with an 18-hole Stableford played on the Monday morning before the AGM. Then on the Tuesday a 36-hole match took place for the News of the World Cup, followed by an 18-hole medal and prizegiving on Wednesday.
Many interesting ideas have been proposed over the years, especially from golf club members, on ways to improve the efficiency of course maintenance. One idea mooted in the BGGA magazine in 1967 from a Mr O O Clapper from New England, USA predicted that eventually there would be two teams of greenstaff. One would be a night-time team who did all the cutting jobs and a daytime one who carried out all the other tasks. Presumably this was to let the golfers play in peace and quiet.
The membership increased to 766 this year.
A meeting was held between the SGGA, the SGU and the Association of Golf Course Secreetaries (AGCS) in Glasgow. Grand words were spoken but the usual lack of will prevailed.
John Campbell, St Andrews Links, proposed and eventually got underway the first Scottish greenkeepers' magazine.
In December 1966 Charles Crossan of Woodburn House College wrote to the council suggesting an approach be made to City and Guilds to run a course in greenkeeping. After meetings, this course was eventually started in 1967 and included among the first class was Chris Kennedy, who became courses and estate manager at Wentworth, and Richard Aitken, who is now managing director of Aitkens Seedsmen.
Involved in all the meetings leading up to the setting up of these courses along with Crossan was Cecil George and Bob Moffatt, with these three responsible for drawing up the syllabus. Cecil was head greenkeeper at Lenzie Golf Club and Bob was head greenkeeper at Cathkin Braes. Bob was also secretary of SGGA at that time. Not only did they do all the preparatory work, but both men were involved in lecturing to some of the classes. That was the start of officially recognised courses for greenkeepers. At first the courses were based on horiculture and I can well remember some of my apprentices coming back and asking why they needed to know how to prune roses. Funnily enough, in these days where there are more private developments and more attention is paid to entrances and car park surrounds in golf clubs, some horticultural knowledge is very beneficial.
The wage scale was amended to read: head greenkeepers, £22-26 plus accommodation; first assistant, £17-£19; assistant £13-£16.
Subscriptions to BGGA were: head greenkeeper, £1-12/6; first assistant, £1-2/6; assistant 16/6.
Membership increased again to 799 and the benevolent fund was used five times to help widows and a sick member.
At the AGM this year the Irish Section intimated its intention to withdraw from the BGGA to start an Irish Greenkeepers Association.
At a meeting of the SGGA Executive and asked for by the Scottish Agricultural Industries (SAI), representatives outlined proposals for a Greenkeeper of the Year Award. It was agreed to go ahead with this.
The winner of the SAI Greenkeeper of the Year Award was William McKelvie, head greenkeeper at Dumfries and County.
The SGGA Executive proposed that each section should donate to the Commonwealth Games Fund. At the AGM it was also agreed to drop the BGGA magazine and make every effort to improve Turfcraft, the magazine started by J Campbell.
Articles on the shortage of greenkeepers were commonplace and golf writers were having their say on the short-sightedness of the golfing authorities.
It was reported in the September issue of the magazine that Cecil Jones, who had retired in 1967 from Little Aston Golf Club after 49 years’ greenkeeping, had written ‘The History of Greenkeeping’ and also ‘Wildlife on the Golf Course’.
A meeting had been due to take place in November between SGGA, the SGU and the AGCS but unfortunately no one from the AGCS turned up. SGGA had prepared a wage scale it wished to be circulated to all clubs. SGU were not too keen to do this but it was decided that if the SGU did not inform the clubs of the wage scale, SGGA would do it themselves.
Joining a union was raised and discussed, but there was no real enthusiasm for it. It was agreed to make enquiries to a union.
At the AGM in December the secretary was told to purchase an addressing machine to make his job easier.
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